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The Mighty Miss Malone
by Christopher Paul Curtis
Intermediate, Middle School Lamb/Random 309 pp.
1/12 978-0-385-73491-2 $15.99
Library ed. 978-0-385-90487-2 $18.99
e-book ed. 978-0-375-89736-8 $10.99
To her father, twelve-year-old Deza Malone is “my Darling Daughter Deza,” “that sassy, smart, beautiful, charming little girl…my Mighty Miss Malone.” But it’s 1936, and the Depression has hit Gary, Indiana, hard. The loving Malone family is desperately poor and withering away. Older brother Jimmie hasn’t grown in three years, Mrs. Malone’s clothes hang on her, and Deza’s teeth are so bad it’s as if she’s rotting from the inside. In one poignant scene, Deza overhears her beloved father say to her mother, “I can’t breathe out of my nose when I’m near Deza because of the smell of her teeth. How sick is that?” Mr. Malone lights out for Flint, Michigan, in search of work, planning to write when his family can join him. But when they don’t hear, they journey to Flint in search of him. As incandescent and full of good cheer as Deza is (and as she was when introduced in Bud, Not Buddy, rev. 11/99, as the little girl who kissed Bud in a Hooverville camp), and as funny as the book’s early scenes are, this is an angry novel, unflinching in its portrayal of poverty, with plenty of resonance with the fifteen million poor children in the United States today. There’s certainly a measure of hope, hard won, by the end of the novel, but this is a depiction of a family and a nation that embody poet Robert Burns’s lines, much repeated here: “the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft a-gley.
Beneath a Meth Moon: An Elegy
by Jacqueline Woodson
High School Paulsen/Penguin 182 pp.
2/12 978-0-399-25250-1 $16.99
Woodson takes us on the dark journey of addiction, mimicking the slow, hazy spell of drug use with the lull of her poetic prose. Laurel’s happy childhood on the Gulf shore ends abruptly when Hurricane Katrina destroys her city of Pass Christian, Mississippi, taking her mother, grandmother, and house. After two years of refuge with an aunt, Laurel, her father, and her baby brother move north to the small town of Galilee, Iowa. With new friends, cheerleading, and a basketball star boyfriend, a new life seems possible. T-Boom’s affections feel like home to Laurel, and she trusts this good feeling when he offers her first sniff of meth, just to warm her up on a cold night. Laurel loves the way “the moon” fills up her head “with so many different beautiful things” and washes the painful past away. How does a pretty, popular cheerleader become an addict? Just that easy, Woodson shows us. Laurel’s descent is brutally honest: wasted and shivering in the cold rain with burnt and bleeding lips, she craves only more meth to soothe the pain. Laurel narrates her own story in a lilting, Southern cadence. Woodson uses biblical references boldly and effectively, as though proclaiming the magnitude of her characters’ trials. For instance, the water rises to take Laurel’s home and family in Pass Christian, while the sign for their new city reads: “Welcome to Galilee, where life is a walk on water.” Laurel’s recovery will take no less than such a miracle. Linking the large-scale tragedies of Katrina and meth addiction, the novel tells an intimate and compelling story of survival.
Early in the summer of 2009—many digital generations ago—HarperCollins set out to experiment with several iPhone/iPod Touch apps. We decided to create two apps based on easily searchable and popular topics (example: ABC), and one app based on a classic and best-selling picture book. The staff at Greenwillow Books was charged with figuring out how to make an app of Freight Train, by Donald Crews. Don was happy and willing to experiment, and we were off and running. At that time the field was wide open, and there weren’t many models for us to emulate. Now the technology has evolved so that picture books are adapted as interactive e-books as well as apps, and many of the challenges and frustrations we faced have been replaced by new ones. But here is a record of what it was like in the dinosaur days of electronic publishing.
Our goals for the project were as follows:
1. Create a child-centered app that would be played again and again.
2. Deliver enjoyable interactions with an educational component, excellent music, and surprises.
3. Promote the author and his books; remain true to the author’s vision.
4. Experiment and learn about the business models and about the creative process.
We chose Freight Train for several key reasons. It is an award-winning picture book with sales of more than a million copies. The art is simple and clean and would translate beautifully to the small screen. The subject matter is perfect for the intended audience. The book is linear (it literally moves along one track), so translating to the app experience was possible without creating additional art or files. We could see much potential for interactivity. There was well-known age-appropriate music in the public domain that we could use to enhance the experience for kids. We also had a Spanish version of Freight Train, so we would be able to make the app in two languages. We were further fortunate because Don had created Inside Freight Train (2001), a novelty board book featuring pages that slid open to reveal the contents of the freight cars, so we already had great additional art to use.
Step One: The Editors’ Storyboards
The first thing we did was to storyboard the app as sequential screens. We imagined interactions, sounds, and movement. We thought about the pacing and how we were going to keep kids engaged and surprised. Freight Train (the book) has two distinct parts—the introduction of the cars, before the train moves, and the pages showing the train moving through the landscape. This was a challenge, because we realized that the interactions would primarily happen in the first half of the app. The second half of the app would basically be a movie. We trusted that the magic of the book’s pacing would translate to the app format. We showed our storyboards to several developers and chose a developer who shared our vision.
Step Two: Don’s Storyboard
After we had a developer on board, Don brought his own ideas to the process and refined the rough editorial storyboards for the developer. He also weighed in on music, sound effects, and design.
Step Three: The Developer
Our developer then created detailed storyboards, told us what was possible technically (and what was not), suggested revisions, and encouraged us to move away from the book in order to deliver more interesting interactions, such as an addictive game featuring a mechanical scoop kids could manipulate to load and unload the cargo in the gondola car. But Don opted to remain true to his original work at all times, resisting a suggestion, for example, to introduce an animated opening sequence featuring music and
With the digital literary world ever-expanding and evolving, picture book apps are multiplying like Wanda Gág’s cats. In this rapidly changing climate, what gives a book-based app staying power? A successful picture book app…
Is interactive—but not too interactive
What distinguishes a picture book app from a traditional picture book or an e-book is the integration of interactive elements. But these should be used wisely, as too much interactivity can overwhelm or distract from the narrative. A busy adaptation of a well-known book, such as Pop-Out! The Tale of Peter Rabbit or Sandra Boynton’s The Going to Bed Book, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as most users will already have a sense of the story. But the narrative thread of the app-only (and thus initially unfamiliar) tale A Present for Milo may snag on the plethora of opportunities for animations. It may take a child several times through to really follow the trajectory of story.
A straightforward translation, Donald Crews’s Freight Train (see pages 47 to 50) contains relatively few interactive features, mostly sound effects and opportunities to explore the cargo. The train’s journey remains the focus; users move through the book without much delay—or opportunity — for play.
The best approach may be a balanced one, such as Bean Creative’s in When I Grow Up by Al Yankovic and Wes Hargis. Narrator Billy enthusiastically discusses his many improbable career options (e.g., “snail trainer”), with brief interactive moments throughout. More extensive games based on his potential occupations (“EXtreme Snail Race”) may be played as they’re introduced in the story, but can also be accessed from the main menu.
Creates meaningful counterpoint between all parts of the app
Every aspect of an app—text, images, narration, music and sound effects, and interactive enhancements—should be accessible and enjoyable, not distracting. The features should also be interdependent, creating an experience greater than the sum of an app’s parts. In Nosy Crow’s Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale, speech bubbles (separate from the “official” text) pop up when a character is tapped to reveal more information about his or her personality and behavior. Nosy Crow uses interactive elements as a narrative tool as crucial as text or illustration; the deepest understanding and appreciation of the story comes from interplay among all the parts.
In The Monster at the End of This Book, Grover’s narration of the text is enhanced by his reverse-psychology invitations to explore—“If you touched right here, that would turn the page…so do not do that”—and his frantic animated attempts to contain the “monster” lurking at story’s conclusion. Flying dust and tool sound effects ratchet up the humor.
Makes use of the “drama of the turning of the page”— even without physical pages
Loud Crow Interactive’s book apps photographically represent the book itself from cover to cover, maintaining all original page-turns and pacing so that animated elements seem to come to life inside the pages of an ordinary book. Many apps just as effectively display an individual page (or spread), then move to the next when the reader swipes to trigger an animated page turn. Some developers—such as Random House in Tad Hills’s How Rocket Learned to Read — additionally zoom in on one part of each illustration at a time, directing attention to moments as they’re narrated.
Puts users in charge
Users should be able to customize their experience of an app by turning on and off or changing narration, sound effects, or music. Users may prefer to have the
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller
by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illus. by R. Gregory Christie
Middle School, High School Carolrhoda Lab 188 pp.
2/12 978-0-7613-6169-5 $17.95
e-book ed. 978-0-7613-8727-5 $12.95
Inspired by Marcus Garvey and the drive to make a difference, Lewis Michaux opened the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem at the end of the Great Depression with an inventory of five books and a strong faith that black people were hungry for knowledge. Over the next thirty-five years, his store became a central gathering place for African American writers, artists, intellectuals, and political figures, including Malcolm X, who frequently gave his speeches in front of the bookstore. But Michaux also sought to reach ordinary citizens, believing that pride and self-knowledge would grow naturally from an understanding of global black history and current events. He didn’t just sell books; he surrounded his customers with ideas and provocative discussion. He also drew people in with pithy window signs that used humor and clever rhymes. When Sugar Ray Robinson stopped by in 1958, for example, Michaux communicated his disapproval of the hair-straightening products the boxer used: “Ray what you put on your head will rub off in your bed. It’s what you put in your head that will last ’til you’re dead.” Short chapters—some just a paragraph or two—are written in thirty-six different voices, mostly those of Michaux himself, family members, and close associates. Some of the voices are those of fictitious characters based on composites—customers, a newspaper reporter, a street vendor—but most are real people whose statements have been documented by the author in her meticulous research. The voices are interspersed with documents such as articles from the New York Amsterdam News and Jet magazine and with excerpts from Michaux’s FBI file. As Michaux’s grandniece, the author also had access to family papers and photographs. Given the author’s close relationship with the subject, she manages to remain remarkably objective about him, largely due to her honest portrayal of the lifelong conflict between him and many of his family members, most notably his evangelist brother, who didn’t approve of his radical politics. Sophisticated expressionistic line drawings illustrate key events. An extraordinary, inspiring book to put into the hands of scholars and skeptics alike. Appended are a family tree, source notes, a bibliography, further reading, and an index of historical characters.